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Transforming supply chains through the Internet of Things

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Gartner has identified that this is the year of the Internet of Things (IoT), labelling it one of the top technology trends of 2015. The IoT encompasses a network of physical objects, which contain fixed technology geared at bridging the gap between intelligent data and human interaction. In this post, I investigate innovative opportunities the IoT offers supply chain businesses.

The IoT is set to transform daily business operations in ways we never thought possible. Earlier this year, Gartner forecast globally, that:

  • 4.9 billion connected ‘things’ will be used;
  • 1 billion connected ‘things’ will be in use across industry sectors;
  • By 2020, 25 billion connected ‘things’ will be used;
  • Businesses specialising in manufacturing, transportation, and utilities will be the top three industries using Internet of Things.

The IoT technology has enabled significant advancements in the wearables space, a category becoming more popular as these technologies become lighter, more compact, and affordable. Wearables allow information to be collected for more perceptive processing in real time, with internet-embedded sensors built into clothing, vehicles, and machinery – all constantly gathering data. Businesses that are thinking about how their supply chain can be enhanced via smart, wearable technology that plugs into a company’s business management software, will not only be able to tap into vast amounts of data generated by technology users, but also drive access to better real-time business insight. Such technology will help management better understand the behaviours and preferences of employee preferences and customers, and as a result can turn generic interactions into more intelligent conversations.

In terms of supply chain management, IoT technology could be the answer to businesses wanting to keep up with the 24-hour, global work cycle. IoT technology such as RFID (radio frequency identification) tagging allows for asset-tracking capabilities; protection against loss and theft of goods; as well as improved and more efficient maintenance operations. For many retail organisations, the ultimate goal for IoT implementation within supply change management is the augmented and automated warehouse. A retail supplier’s business management software solution combined with smart IoT technology can practically empower its customers to virtually pick and pack their own purchases.

Further, by using the data collected by RFID technology, business management software can follow products from the manufacturing stage to when they reach the store shelves. This system can identify time lags in the movement of inventory from one location to another, and alert managers when an item has moved off course. This allows managers to respond to business issues in real-time and act accordingly.

For instance, take iKeg, an application used by beer manufacturers for tracking the movement of products from the factory to the consumer, was created to combat the 200 million beer kegs floating around the US. The app also tells the owner where the kegs are located, and how much liquid remains in each, ensuring a more streamlined and intelligent supply chain for the manufacturer and customer.

Through technology and applications like iKeg, it’s clear that IoT is no longer an abstract, future concept, with many businesses embracing the technology to drive efficiency, enhance prediction forecasts, heighten customer service, and reduce waste.

It’s now time for businesses to think about how they can enhance their supply chains through IoT technology to drive better decision making at any time, and foster more efficiency.

Have you explored how you might utilise IoT within your business?

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